Despite the Nepalese weather: find your inner pilgrim!

All right folks, you’ve had the intro-post on our trek up to the Everest South Base Camp in Nepal. Now for some details. Here’s how things went down up…

Every day of the trek was pretty much like… any page of a book – if you don’t get up too close to the words to be able to discern and read them, those pages are all pretty much the same…

Every morning we were up at the crack of dawn to pack the bags to be able to hand them to the sherpas at 7am. Then came a meagre (at least, to me) breakfast; still, I didn’t come for the gastronomy so – whatever. Then at 8 – everyone in our group to the hall of our guesthouse, and minutes later we were out and off…

Actually, the first day was a little different. We were up at 3.20am to leave our hotel in Kathmandu an hour later to make it in time to catch the very first scheduled chopper to Lukla. Quite why the need for such an early start I still don’t know (we only flew into the Nepalese capital the evening before), but never mind – we didn’t notice any tiredness as we kicked off the first day of our trek! First up, we take the main – or perhaps only – street of Lukla:

We left the village taking this here charming track. Curiously/unexpectedly the first day’s walking was all downhill! An altitude drop of 200 meters. At the start of a trek up to Everest’s Base Camp )…

With the sun out in a clear blue sky, the views all around were magical:

The further we walk, the more imposingly magnificent the landscapes become – and snow-capped to boot. Himalayas, baby!…

The rockiness becomes somewhat brutal – as if forewarning of even more brutality to come…

What goes down, must come up – especially at the foot of Everest. And indeed our second day ushered in what we’d come for: ascension – and all the sharper as we went along. For the first few days the relatively low altitudes and the scorching sun meant the going was hot and sweaty. Later, toward the end of our ascent, it was just the opposite, but more about that later. For now – it was up the steps and much perspiration, trying to shelter in the shade from the trees as much as we could:

Curiously, much like the Groundhog-Day-like routine every day, the weather cycles were pretty samey from day to day too: of a morning – sun and clear skies; come noon – low cloud/fog everywhere reducing both visibility and meditatiability ) ->

Somewhat reminiscent of Kamchatka – you mostly only catch glimpses of something monumental and mighty during the few short periods when the wind blows away the clouds. Minutes later the wind dies down again and it’s back to hazy murkiness (.

These glimpses of grandeur were so short-lived that we’d often not have the time to de-backpack, extract camera + appropriate lens, and take a pic of said fleeting grandiosity. By the time the lens was attached, cloud was back spoiling the view! ->

On the other hand, just occasionally the weather was wonderful – especially of a morning:

But if you’re quick getting your camera out – or it’s hung on a strap round your neck – you get to see (and snap) the scenes you came all the way to Nepal for. Yes – that’s why we came; not for rock climbing up the world’s tallest mountain, which is perhaps the most typical reason folks come here. We were mere tourists of a meditative leaning. Breathtaking scenery was our thing – not risking our lives attempting brave feats. Give us a sheltered spot with super photo-ops over crampons and frostbite any day ).

Ah, here’s Everest, btw:

Alas, you can only see the peak in this photo. And in fact – spoiler alert! – this was the only time we saw Everest throughout the whole trip!

…The same (only saw it this once) goes for the marvelously photogenic Ama Dablam (nearly 7000 meters tall) ->

Generally, on the plus-sides: supernaturally splendid views (occasionally!), and we’d timed our trip just right: April is among the best months to visit.

Generally, the down-sides: both the lower oxygen levels and the increase in cloud cover the higher we went.

Sometimes we were completely shrouded in cloud:

Our guide told us how this dreary weather (kinda clear of a morning then cloudy again by lunch) is quite normal for this time of year and that we should be grateful for the few short glimpses of clear skies and visible skylines. On hearing this, I figured that several days of sun in a row is a climatic anomaly in this part of the world.

Suddenly – a break in the cloudiness, something’s appeared over there, and everyone’s in raptures from an overdose of emotions…

But me – I don’t quite get it. I came for a steady, meditative trek – with plenty of stops for taking photos of the splendid mountainous views all around. Whereas this was trekking and only trekking – almost like an endurance test. I like my walks, but I need the meditative element too. I mean, why come all this way for a heads-down trek, when one of those could have been arranged a lot closer to home? And, like, why did I bring three heavy battery packs for my camera with me?! In short: grrr.

…For this was what we were expecting:

…And this is what we got:

In the morning things were a little better, but not much:

That morning, I wondered to myself why tens of thousands of trekkers come up to the Base Camp every year. Of course, some of those will be serious 8K mountaineers who stop over at the Camp on their way toward the peak of, say, Lhotse or Everest, but most will surely be regular tourists. So why come to the Base Camp?

And then I think I got it: for most of those “regular tourists”, a trek up here has a religious hue to it. They’re pilgrims. They aren’t bothered about the surrounding scenery, and couldn’t give hoot about what the weather’s doing. The main thing for them – simply getting up to the Base Camp and… taking a photo with the “sacred stone” in the background! ->

…Whereas my objective was a little different. Getting to the Base Camp was a mere formality; the main thing: mountainous meditation of the ultimate kind. But it wasn’t to be. So, in order not to get too down about it, it was a matter of “if you can’t beat ’em – join ’em”. So I did: I donned my figurative pilgrim’s hat and went all alpine-religious-pious and eager to check out the holy places of the Himalayas…

…And it was just as well I turned pilgrim, since the weather only got worse the nearer we got to the Base Camp.

Here are the glaciers – which should have been twinkling in the bright sunshine ) ->

Over there – you might just make out tiny specks of orange: that’s the Base Camp ->

And here’s the “village” up close. At any one time, apparently, more than a thousand folks live here:

And that’s all for today my dear virtual-alpine-pilgrims: we’d arrived at the “holy” place ).

The rest of the photos from our journey to the South Base Camp of Mount Everest are here.

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